It’s been a busy week for Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Today, he joined USAID Administrator Samantha Power to celebrate “democratic bright spots” like the Dominican Republic and recommit millions of dollars to strengthen their institutions.
During the event, Dominican President Luis Abinader stated, “Economic development won’t occur in a country that is still corrupt or has a justice system that is politicized.” President Abinader could not be more correct, and Congress should ensure that USAID does not continue to pour millions of taxpayer dollars into a justice system that is wholly focused on locking up its political opponents. A bright spot of democracy, indeed.
Today’s event was just the latest stop in Blinken’s tour de farce. Earlier this week, the Biden administration celebrated the release of five American citizens who were wrongfully detained by the Iranian government. In his remarks, Secretary of State Antony Blinken decried the Iranian government’s “cruel practice of wrongful detention” while also boosting the administration’s efforts to bring home “every wrongfully detained American.”
While the administration pays our enemies billions of dollars to release U.S. nationals, they do nothing when our partners in the Dominican Republic do the same. This is a critical mistake. State Department’s continued silence on the Dominican Republic’s preventive detention crisis not only flies in the face of their public commitments but violates the very policy they rely on to cheerlead their efforts.
Secretary Blinken referenced Executive Order (EO) 14078, signed last year by President Biden. In the EO, President Biden wrote, “I therefore determine that hostage-taking and the wrongful detention of United States nationals abroad constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States. I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with this threat.”
Yet in our own backyard, the administration has not carried out the policies and practices enumerated in the EO. According to the EO, the “integrity of the international political system” is threatened by any foreign state that engages in the “practice of wrongful detention, including for political leverage.” When it comes to practicing what you preach, it is no longer a question of whether Biden’s State Department is waffling on its foreign policy positions. The larger issue is if by ignoring the preventive detention crisis in the Dominican Republic, is the State Department violating U.S. law?
Follow the Law
The most obvious law to start with is the Levinson Act, which codified the roles and tools under the administration’s disposal that led to the freeing of the five Americans wrongfully detained by Iran. As the Atlantic Council points out, the Levinson Act “means all Americans must return home – not just citizens.” The act – and Biden’s EO – codify that U.S. legal permanent residents and citizens have equal status when they are wrongfully detained by foreign governments.
Furthermore, the act’s language reaches beyond the autocracies of Iran and North Korea. In fact, the criteria for wrongful detention includes conditions that are publicly known and reported to occur in the Dominican Republic. This includes when the Department of State has determined that the judicial system is
- Susceptible to corruption
- Incapable of rendering just reports;
- Or if due process of law has been sufficiently impaired as to render the detention arbitrary.
It doesn’t take a legal expert to realize that these conditions exist in the Dominican Republic. The State Department said so in its own 2022 Country Report on Human Rights Practices that pretrial detention, arbitrary arrest, and other violations of due process were rampant in the Dominican criminal justice system.
The State Department confirmed these challenges this month. As reported by The Daily Caller, a spokesperson stated that “pretrial and prison conditions in the Dominican Republic are known challenges reported on in the human rights Report, and on which the State Department continues to engage with the Government of the Dominican Republic.”
If these challenges are known, then what is the State Department doing about them? Are they “publicly or privately designat[ing] or identify[ing] officials of foreign governments who are involved, directly or indirectly, in wrongful detentions,” as Biden’s EO requires? Have they been paying attention to the enthusiasm with which officials like Wilson Camacho and Yeni Berenice pursue preventive detention orders?
These questions, in combination with the “known challenges” and the laws set forth by the Levinson Act and Biden’s EO, paint a picture of a feckless State Department, wandering across continents and crises without any consistent goals to the detriment of Americans suffering behind bars.
Before Secretary Blinken and his team take a victory lap on their Iranian deal, they should think of the many families who are wondering if they’ll ever see their loved ones return home again. In terms of the Dominican Republic, that number might range from several hundred to the thousands, as it still unclear how many Americans languish in Dominican prisons.